Health Care

This Animal’s Immune System Holds the Clue for an HIV Vaccine, According to Science

This isn’t the first time this animal has been the key to cure a major disease.

By Sam Benson Smith

Spectral Design/ShutterstockIn the 20th century, an estimated 300 million people died from Smallpox. The disease scourged humanity for upwards of 12 millennia and was finally eradicated in 1980, thanks, in part, to cows, or rather, a disease which afflicted cows.

In 1796, Edward Jenner brought forth a theory, a proposed solution to Smallpox, an epidemic which was, at the time, killing approximately 300,000 Europeans per year.

His theory was based on the observation that milkmaids who contracted cowpox would never go on to contract Smallpox. Why not infect people with Cowpox, a treatable disease, to prevent them from contracting Smallpox, which was basically a death sentence? Suddenly, Jenner had the first vaccine on his hands. (Here are 10 vaccine myths you can safely ignore.)

(The term “vaccine” actually comes from the scientific name for Cowpox, Variolae vaccinae)

And now, two centuries later, cows may be serving as a key to solving another one of history’s deadliest diseases: HIV.

A study published in Nature showed that the immune system of cows was able to adapt and combat HIV at an unprecedented rate—a rate which basically rendered the disease toothless. Cows were able to neutralize 20 percent of the virus strains after 42 days, and 96 percent after 381 days. 

Dr. Devin Sok, one of the researchers involved in the study told the BBC that the cow’s “response blew our minds,” especially when put into perspective to typical HIV response, “It was just insane how good it looked, in humans it takes three-to-five years to develop the antibodies we’re talking about.”   

The study did not produce a vaccine or treatment quite yet, but the results certainly are encouraging. (By the way, are your teens up to date on their vaccines? They probably aren’t.)

More: Health Care Animals Living Well

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